Fascinating but Lesser Known Places of Kathmandu

Are you looking for things to do in Kathmandu that are off the beaten track? If so, know that there’s a house called “Hermitage” in Teen Chule of Pasang Lhamu Road in Bouddha that most people might not know about. Since the man who lives in it likes to call himself a hermit, most people will naturally not have access to it. However, if you are an art lover, you’ll have no problems in entering its hallowed gates to meet Manjul Babu Mishra, an artist and litterateur who is highly regarded here and abroad. His abode is an old cottage having one long room with tall shelves crowded with books, an alcove with his paintings, and a small room divided by a curtain that is his bed room. Outside, it is an Eden of sorts, with a large garden full of trees on which grow mangoes, peaches, jamuns, grapes, persimmons, apricots, and figs. The highlight of this fruitful garden is a nine-feet-tall statue of the legendary Nepali artist, architect, and sculptor Arniko, which the artist asserts is the only one of its kind in the country. It’s huge and it’s impressive, but since it’s off the beaten track, only a few know about it.

Speaking of his canvases, many, if not all, have wild-eyed devilish faces of the artist himself. One painting portrays the artist, his silver hair twisted at the sides to resemble horns, painting a full length nude figure of a Boticelli’s Venus image. Other paintings have a Mona Lisa image as a central figure. According to him, he had once painted his version of Mona Lisa for a European client, and after it was taken abroad, he felt a void in his life. Ever since, he says that he has been trying to fill that void by including the lady in his paintings. Well, it’s all pretty interesting, isn’t it? So, go to see the art of the hermit and admire Arniko’s statue while you are at it. There’s no dearth of things to do in Kathmandu, interesting things, if you only have a few facts right.

Also in Teen Chule of Bouddha is the residence of a former Nepali ambassador to Belgium and India. He lives in a large European-style mansion ensconced in tall trees and thick foliage. North of it, and within the grounds, is a 150-year-old house that was once the summer home of Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher Rana (1875-1952). It is a complex of four separate buildings: the main house, the stables/garage, guard quarters, and one edifice known as Langdo Kolonel ko Ghar (“Lame Colonel’s House’). The complex showcases Rana period (1846–1951) architecture. Nearby are three pillar-like constructions arising from a broad common base, and this is credited by some for the name of the locality, i.e. Teen Chule (Three Peaks). This is the highest site in the locality, and from here you’ll be able to see the airport quite clearly. Apparently, the Prime Minister used to come here every summer, riding an elephant ahead of a colorful retinue of soldiers and retainers. It’s a local place that’s as off the beaten track as any place you’ll find in Kathmandu.

The complex is enclosed by an old brick wall, and as you enter it, you get the feeling that you’re stepping onto a medieval age theater. The houses are made of either sun dried or fired bricks plastered with mud mortar. The building, once the stables, and later, the garage, is two-storied, and certain renovations have been made to it. Next to it is the so-called “Lame Colonel’s House” which could have been a cowshed originally. The main living quarters, three-storied with a sloped roof laid with tiles, has seven rooms, and there’s a sundeck with large glass windows on the east side at the back on the middle floor. There’s a narrow spiral staircase going down from the sundeck to the ground floor, which could have led to a private toilet. The room ceiling heights are no more than seven-and-a-half feet high. A room on the top floor has a fireplace with an ancient-looking chimney pipe protruding out through the wall. The low false ceiling has embossed designs. All this goes to make the summer home pretty intriguing, and far removed from other local places, but symbolic of this ancient city

The ground floor is raised, with wide vents running underneath which were meant to ensure that the ground floors would not suffer from dampness. Some cracks on the square tiles of a ground floor room are the result of the great 1934 earthquake. A corridor runs from the main door of the house to the Hawa Ghar (‘Airy House’) where a narrow spiral staircase climbs up to a tiny room and carries on up to a terrace. The narrowness of the staircase (which does not allow for more than one person to climb at a time) and the house’s location at the front of the main house makes one assume that it could have been a fortification to guard the living quarters. Interesting, to say the least, but most people are unaware that such a royal summer home still exists, almost intact, in Teen Chule of Bouddha. It’s another off the beaten track place that you can seek out when in Kathmandu.

Now, closer to the capital’s center, at Ratna Park, one of the busiest of local places, there’s a temple of a 16-handed Ganesh. It is believed that this is the place to visit if you want to get rid of rats around the house, or if you are having too many squabbles with your spouse. Rat problems and spouse problems, no problem; just offer a dozen or so laddus (round sweetmeats that the god is especially fond of) to the 16-handed Ganesh, and you’re good to go. The temple is one that most locals have crossed a thousand times, standing as it does next to the bustling Bhotahity-Ratna Park overhead walkway landing, on the park side. One of its unique features is that it has its back turned on the street and faces Rani Pokhari, unlike most other temples which face the street ahead. That’s not the only strange thing about this temple. Inside it is a three-feet-tall stone statue of Lord Ganesh. He has 16 hands. One rests on the tummy, the other is wrapped around his wife Siddhi, and seven hands on each side hold different symbols.

A 16-handed Ganesh is unusual. According to Religion Facts, www.religionfacts.com: “According to the strict rules of Hindu iconography, Ganesha figures with only two hands are taboo. Hence, Ganesha figures are most commonly seen with four hands which signify their divinity. Some figures may be seen with six, some with eight, some with ten, some with twelve, and some with fourteen hands, each hand carrying a symbol which differs from the symbols in other hands.” There’s no mention of 16 hands. According to those in the know, it is also uncommon that he has one hand wrapped around Siddhi, the elder of his two wives, instead of Riddhi, his other wife. It’s a statue of Ganesh that’s pretty much off the beaten track.

Anyway, leaving these oddities aside, locals here believe that if you are suffering marital squabbles, a dozen laddus and a prayer will be of more help than a marriage counselor. As for getting rid of rats around the house, one can assume that it must have something to do with the mouse being Ganesh’s mount. So, be sure to visit this unique temple that was built by King Pratap Malla (1641–1674) around the time the famous Rani Pokhari was being made.

Now, here’s another thing you might like to take note of, especially when around Hanuman Dhoka in Basantpur, perhaps the most bustling among all local places in the capital. Near the entrance to the square, keep an eye out for two massive nine-feet-high stone lions. They were made in 1997 when preparations were on in full swing for the Visit Nepal Year 1998 campaign. They are also known as the Dharma Shakya Lions on account of them being sculpted by a sculptor named Dharma Raj Shakya of Patan. According to him, the original plan was to have nine of these monoliths made around the historic square, but such a plan had to be shelved due to controversies regarding financial irregularities, and so there’s only two.

Now, here’s an interesting story about the sculptor. It’s a fact that there’s life-size statue in his likeness that stands tall in the White Stupa Temple in Beijing, China. Now, how did this come about to be? Well, the Chinese were looking for someone who resembled Arniko, the same man we mentioned somewhere in the earlier paragraphs, who became a legend in China because of his extraordinary artistic, architectural, and sculpting works there. Apparently Dharma Raj is the spitting image of the icon, and so they requested him to model for a statue they wanted to build in the master’s honor. There, you have it then, don’t miss out on the famous lions, and if you want to meet their maker, you can visit him as well at his studio in Patan Industrial Estate in Lalitpur. Like we told you before, there are plenty of places and things to see off the beaten track when in Kathmandu.

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